Fort Wayne auteur Neil LaBute's new film "Nurse Betty" has the most original and ingenious premise since last year's "Being John Malkovich." A modern-day "Wizard of Oz" meets "Don Quixote," "Betty" is an outrageous story in which the borderline between fantasy and reality ceases to exist, as the heroine's sheltered world faces the confrontation between romantic illusions and violent reality. The film itself is as sweet and funny as it is unnerving.
Nurse Betty - R
Morgan Freeman, Renee Zellweger, Chris Rock and Greg Kinnear
Showplace East 11
Betty, played by Renee Zellweger, is actually a waitress who aspires to become a nurse. After witnessing the brutal murder of her deadbeat husband (Aaron Eckhart of "Erin Brockovich"), Betty suffers amnesia and literally leaves Kansas for the Emerald City that is Los Angeles, hoping to meet the handsome Dr. Ravell (Greg Kinnear) from her favorite soap opera, "A Reason to Love." At the same time, her husband's murderers (Morgan Freeman and Chris Rock) follow her to retrieve a load of drugs in her car.
The screenplay by John C. Richards and James Flamberg won the Best Screenplay award at this year's Cannes Film Festival and is cleverly twisted. Once Betty arrives in Los Angeles, her fantasies do become reality. She accidentally becomes a nurse in a real L.A. hospital. She meets George McCord, the actor who plays Dr. Ravell, and he is all too happy to indulge in her romantic illusions.
In this, his first time directing a screenplay that he did not write, LaBute still expertly creates the eerily funny aspect of his previous films. The film is far less nasty than LaBute's "In the Company of Men" and "Your Friends & Neighbors," but it has just the right tone to make the audience laugh nervously. Cinematographer Jean-Yves Escoffier's brilliant camera work becomes more and more colorful as the film increasingly strays away from reality toward fantasy.
Zellweger delivers by far the most impressive performance of her career and will surely generate some Oscar buzz. Her sympathetic and energetic performance winningly guides the audience through this crazy story. If the role had been performed in any other way, the film could become utterly unconvincing.